Russia reacts to imperialist encroachment
Ukraine/NATO/US ignored Kremlin’s red lines
The recent Russian military intervention in Ukraine is an example of what can happen when you get “an offer you can’t refuse” and decide to refuse it anyway. The 24 February attack on Ukraine was signalled by Russian president Vladimir Putin in a speech he delivered a few days prior which combined recognition of the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two pro-Russian statelets in eastern Ukraine; a threat to punish the fascist perpetrators of “genocidal” attacks in 2014 on the population of that region; a statement that Ukraine’s NATO connection would be severed; and the suggestion that Russia might unilaterally revise Ukraine’s state boundaries.
Less than a year ago, in March 2021, Kiev began mobilizing forces, including the openly fascist Azov Battalion, in preparation for a military intervention to “de-occupy” the self-proclaimed “people’s republics.” When the Kremlin responded by amassing troops along the border, signalling that any attack on the pro-Russian population of the Donbass would be met with an overwhelming counterattack, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky prudently opted to send his troops back to their barracks.
In November 2021, the US, which had supported if not initiated the projected “de-occupation” offensive earlier in the year, began beating the drums about an imminent Russian military action against Ukraine. A few weeks later, in mid-December 2021 Putin countered with two draft treaties (one for NATO and one for the US) rejecting any prospect of future Georgian and Ukrainian membership in the American-led military alliance and calling for dismantling NATO military installations that have been inserted into Eastern Europe during the past quarter century—i.e., after the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia, joined NATO.
Putin stated clearly that NATO missiles in Ukraine, which shares a 2300 km border with Russia, would not be tolerated:
“‘We have nowhere to retreat,’ Putin said on state television, adding that NATO could deploy missiles in Ukraine that would take just four or five minutes to reach Moscow.
“‘They have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross. They have taken it to the point where we simply must tell them “Stop!”’ he added.”
—dw.com, 26 Dec 2021
Putin made clear that if NATO activity in Ukraine was not ended and its proposed expansion into Ukraine was not categorically rejected and/or if there were attempts to deploy new weapons close to Russia’s borders*, the response would be “military-technical” countermeasures, not only against Ukraine but also, potentially, against the US and its allies.
When the Kremlin’s two treaties were effectively rejected, as expected, Russia began preparing to de-NATO-ize Ukraine. In a speech a few days before kinetic activity commenced, Putin outlined Russian grievances in relation to Ukraine, and blamed Vladimir Lenin for recognizing Ukraine’s right to self-determination as an independent Soviet republic. Most significantly, Putin reiterated Russia’s willingness to neutralize Ukraine as a potential NATO partner and to redraw its national frontiers—which might well involve incorporating territories adjacent to Crimea and other parts of eastern Ukraine into Russia.
The Western media has, as usual, generally provided little or none of the historical context necessary to understand recent developments. Russia’s rulers have, for three decades, been seriously aggrieved that the solemn promise made to Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the degenerated Soviet workers’ state, in early 1990 by US Secretary of State James Baker, that NATO would not move “one inch eastward” was casually disregarded. After NATO expanded relentlessly eastward to include 14 former Soviet bloc countries, Putin drew the line at any further expansion, in particular ruling out NATO membership for Ukraine or Georgia, both of which border Russia.
The Russian military action against Ukraine is tactically aggressive but strategically defensive. Revolutionaries do not give Putin any political support while recognizing that Russia’s right to self-defense includes the right to sever Ukraine’s NATO connection. If the current conflict escalates into a fight between Russia and NATO or its proxies, we defend Russia. Our attitude to any adjustment of Ukraine’s frontiers is chiefly determined by the will of the peoples involved—as in the case of Crimea. We oppose any attempt by Russia to occupy or control areas in which the population wishes to remain in the Ukrainian state.
2014 coup backfires, as Russia regains Crimea
In 2004 the US-supported “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine prevented Viktor Yanukovych, considered overly friendly with Russia, from winning the presidency. In 2010 Yanukovych, a corrupt servant of Ukraine’s oligarchs, succeeded in getting elected and for the next several years sought to play Russia and the EU off against each other. In 2013 he rejected the EU’s offer of a $10 billion loan that was conditional on the implementation of a brutal austerity package and opted instead for a $15 billion dollar bail-out from Moscow that came with a promise of continuing subsidies for Ukraine’s energy purchases. The Brookings Institution, based in Washington DC, estimated at the time that: “Russia today supports the Ukrainian economy to the tune of at least $5 billion, perhaps as much as $10 billion, each year.”
The US was not pleased with Yanukovych’s decision and invested $5 billion in building a movement to remove him. The core of the Maidan movement (named after Kiev’s central square) was composed of far-rightist admirers of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who allied with the Nazis against the Soviets during World War II. It was hardly surprising that the government which came to power in the wake of Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 was infested with fascists. One of its first moves was to outlaw the use of Russian, the mother tongue of much of the population in the country’s eastern regions. This created an immediate and massive reaction and led to the establishment of two breakaway mini republics, Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kremlin pre-empted any attempt to seize the critically important naval base at Sebastopol by inviting Crimea to join the Russian Federation, a move that was overwhelmingly approved in a subsequent popular referendum.
The decision to reintegrate Crimea into Russia was a defensive measure to limit the damage caused by the coup in Kiev. Revolutionaries recognize Russia’s right to militarily defend itself, including Crimea and the two “people’s republics,” from NATO or its puppets and oppose all imperialist sanctions, threats and military provocations. We have the same attitude to US attempts to bully Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and any other dependent capitalist countries.
US/NATO’s Long Game vs Russia
For over thirty years the US hegemon and its allies have relentlessly expanded their military footprint in Eastern Europe. By 2010 both Romania and Poland agreed to host missile bases on their territories; while ostensibly intended to shield Europe from Iran, it was widely recognized that they were in fact meant to be used against Russia.
In a remarkably candid presentation to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 21 August 2018, A. Wess Mitchell, the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, outlined “the overarching strategy of the United States towards the Russian Federation.” After observing that the “starting point of the National Security Strategy is the recognition that America has entered a period of big-power competition,” he continued:
“Our Russia policy proceeds from the recognition that, to be effective, U.S. diplomacy must be backed by ‘military power that is second to none and fully integrated with our allies and all of our instruments of power.’ To that end, we have reversed years of cuts to the defense budget, begun the process of recapitalizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, requested close to $11 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative, and worked within NATO to bring about more than $40 billion in new European defense spending. At the NATO Summit, we established two new NATO Commands (including one here in the United States), new counter-hybrid threat response teams, and major, multi-year initiatives to bolster the mobility, readiness, and capability of the Alliance.
“In tandem, we have worked to degrade Vladimir Putin’s ability to conduct aggression by imposing costs on the Russian state and the oligarchy that sustains it. …
“Our actions are having an impact. Research by the State Department’s Office of the Chief Economist shows that on average sanctioned Russian firms see their operating revenue fall by a quarter; their total asset valuation fall by half; and they are forced to fire a third of their employees.”
Mitchell observed: “We have placed particular emphasis on bolstering the states of frontline Europe. In Ukraine and Georgia, we lifted restrictions on the acquisition of defensive weapons.” Moscow understands that “bolstering” the military capacity of NATO’s “frontline” vassals, setting up Ballistic Missile Defense sites, increasing troop deployments in Eastern Europe and carrying out “color revolutions” against regimes deemed insufficiently pliable, are all measures aimed at weakening and ultimately subordinating Russia, which still possesses by far the most powerful military in Europe.
Following the 1991 triumph of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, American imperialists viewed Russia as an immensely valuable target for looting. US think tanks long toyed with the idea of breaking Russia up into several smaller, more manageable neo-colonies which could be run by puppet regimes beholden to America and a few of its major imperialist partners. In his 2014 book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Robert Gates recalled how, in 1991, Dick Cheney, then US defense secretary, advocated this solution to the Russian “threat”:
“Because Dick is such a calm, fairly quiet-spoken man, I think a lot of people never fully appreciated how conservative he always was…. And when the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”
Cheney’s real objective of course was to open Russia’s immense natural wealth for plundering by US corporations. While these plans are not featured in the popular American media, they are well known to many Russians and have doubtless contributed to the popular perception that relations with the US are essentially a zero-sum game.
Vladimir Putin’s concern about NATO’s intermediate missile systems in Europe has many parallels with the worries of the leadership of the Soviet Union in the early 1960s that led to the Cuban missile crisis. The USSR was a degenerated workers’ state based on a system of collectivized property that was the legacy of the October 1917 Revolution. It was perceived as both a global ideological competitor and a potentially lucrative target in the event of capitalist counterrevolution. Faced with the aggressive belligerence of the US, the Soviet leadership opted to counter by putting missiles in Cuba:
“The fate of Cuba and the maintenance of Soviet prestige in that part of the world preoccupied me….We had to think of some way of confronting America with more than words. We had to establish a tangible and effective deterrent to American interference in the Caribbean. But what exactly? The logical answer was missiles. The United States had already surrounded the Soviet Union with its own bomber bases and missiles. We knew that American missiles were aimed at us in Turkey and Italy, to say nothing of West Germany. Our vital industrial centers were directly threatened by planes armed with atomic bombs and guided missiles tipped with nuclear warheads. As Chairman of the Council of Ministers, I found myself in the difficult position of having to decide on a course of action which would answer the American threat but which would also avoid war.”
American missiles in Turkey reduced Russia’s strategic depth and its response time in an emergency; Soviet missiles in Cuba posed the same problem for the US. The crisis was ultimately defused by an agreement that Russia would publicly dismantle its Cuban sites in exchange for the US covertly pulling its missiles out of Turkey.
The US triumph in the Cold War and the victory of capitalist counterrevolution throughout the Soviet bloc was not enough for Washington. The lesson Putin has drawn from Russia’s recent history is that to avoid a direct military conflict “the indispensable nation” must be made to understand that Russia has retreated as far as it can, and that continued attempts to push the Kremlin might end up having very serious consequences for the US itself.
Russia pushes back
The Russians began objecting to NATO expansion under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, but their concerns were ignored because Moscow had no effective recourse. Putin complained bitterly about this to the Munich Security Conference in February 2007:
“I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them. But I will allow myself to remind this audience what was said. I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee’. Where are these guarantees?”
Citing “an almost uncontained hyper use of force—military force—in international relations” by the US, Putin warned that the attempt to impose “a unipolar world” would end in disaster:
“It is [a] world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.”
But the world’s only superpower, already bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, continued to double down on its chimerical pursuit of total global supremacy. In April 2008, NATO’s Bucharest summit proclaimed:
“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May. MAP [Membership Action Plan] is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP.”
Four months later, in August 2008, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a US asset who had come to power in the 2003 CIA-backed “Rose Revolution,” overplayed his hand when he attempted to seize control of the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia. Saakashvili’s military trained by the US and Israel, and recently re-equipped with shiny new American weapons, had anticipated an easy victory. Instead, Putin refused to acquiesce to this provocation and sent in Russian troops which quickly secured South Ossetia, shattered Saakashvili’s military and carted off much of its fancy equipment, before withdrawing from Georgian territory.
By ejecting the Georgian invaders from South Ossetia, Putin signalled that Russia was no longer prepared to roll over in its “near abroad” and would oppose further eastward expansion of the US-dominated military alliance. Russia’s symbolic victory over NATO produced an avalanche of outraged imperialist propaganda in defense of poor little Georgia that was echoed by much of the international left—including comrades within our own organization—as various impressionists decided that Putin’s Russia had suddenly become “imperialist.”
Six years later, when the US-supported coup in Kiev posed a potential threat to Russia’s vitally important naval base on the Crimean peninsula, Putin again responded with a defensive military intervention. And once again, the imperialist media was full of denunciations of Russian “aggression,” but, as in Georgia, Russia was only responding defensively in an attempt to keep imperialist military forces away from its borders. Yet NATO continued to push ahead relentlessly. In 2013 a “Defence Education Enhancement Programme” (DEEP) was commenced to overhaul the Ukrainian military. According to NATO’s website, DEEP “fosters defence capacity and institution building. By enhancing democratic institutions, it makes an important contribution to NATO’s efforts to project stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond.” In 2015 Ukraine was welcomed into NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) which entitled it to access armaments. Two years later Ukraine declared NATO membership to be a strategic national objective. In January the New York Times provided the following, undoubtedly partial, list of NATO activity in Ukrainian territory:
“More than 150 U.S. military advisers are in Ukraine, trainers who have for years worked out of the training ground near Lviv, in the country’s west, far from the front lines. The current group includes Special Operations forces, mostly Army Green Berets, as well as National Guard trainers from Florida’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“Military advisers from about a dozen allied countries are also in Ukraine, U.S. officials said. Several NATO countries, including Britain, Canada, Lithuania and Poland, have regularly sent training forces to the country.”
France, Italy, Germany and various other members of the EU have shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Washington’s belligerent posture toward Russia. While not wanting to openly defy the US, they are well aware of the enormous price they will have to pay if economic relations with Russia are severed. French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and other less powerful EU leaders understand that closer Russian-European economic integration (as well as participation in the Chinese New Silk Road project) would provide significant economic benefits. Continued fealty to Washington as the American empire spirals downward, by contrast, offers the prospect of very considerable pain for very little gain. The showdown over Ukraine, in hindsight, may well appear to have been a “tipping point” at which America’s NATO allies began to recognize that the cost of maintaining US supremacy in Europe far outweighed any possible benefit. Michael Hudson provided the following outline of the situation:
“What worries American diplomats is that Germany, other NATO nations and countries along the Belt and Road route understand the gains that can be made by opening up peaceful trade and investment. If there is no Russian or Chinese plan to invade or bomb them, what is the need for NATO? What is the need for such heavy purchases of U.S. military hardware by America’s affluent allies? And if there is no inherently adversarial relationship, why do foreign countries need to sacrifice their own trade and financial interests by relying exclusively on U.S. exporters and investors?
“These are the concerns that have prompted French Prime Minister Macron to call forth the ghost of Charles de Gaulle and urge Europe to turn away from what he calls NATO’s ‘brain-dead’ Cold War and break with the pro-U.S. trade arrangements that are imposing rising costs on Europe while denying it potential gains from trade with Eurasia. Even Germany is balking at demands that it freeze by this coming March by going without Russian gas.”
Russia, in alliance with China, appears capable of denying the US the “full spectrum dominance” displayed during the ill-fated, criminal conquests of Afghanistan and Iraq two decades ago. Many analysts estimate that the Russian military, which has undergone a dramatic upgrade since its 2008 Georgian intervention, would defeat NATO in a conventional war in Europe (patrickarmstrong.ca).
While revolutionary Marxists implacably oppose the reactionary, anti-working-class regime of Vladimir Putin and the corrupt capitalist oligarchs he rules on behalf of, we nonetheless side with Russia in its attempts to resist the relentless provocations of NATO and the US. Russia’s demand to prohibit Ukraine and Georgia from membership in NATO, like its demands for closing missile bases and removing foreign forces (chiefly US) from East Europe, are entirely supportable.
If Russia is successful in its attempt to reduce NATO’s military leverage against it, the security of various other potential imperialist targets, including Iran, Syria and, most importantly, the Chinese deformed workers’ state, will be significantly enhanced. For more than 70 years the primary strategic goal of US imperialism in Asia has been to undo China’s 1949 social revolution and reduce the deformed workers’ state which resulted from it to a vast region for neo-colonial exploitation. To that end the US has encircled China with a network of military bases, coordinated its efforts with various hostile neighboring capitalist states and has been engaging in an ongoing series of provocations.
US vs Germany over Nord Stream 2
In a 15 November 2021 article, former British diplomat Alastair Crooke cited Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser, casually observing that Europe must remain aligned with Washington, so that the “rules of the road” governing the global economy remain “favorable to American interests.”
“In terms of our allies around the world, the U.S. and Europe are aligned around trade and technology issues to ensure that China cannot ‘abuse our markets’; and then on the Indo-Pacific front, we have advanced so that we can hold China accountable for its actions.”
“We want to create the circumstance in which two major powers will operate in an international system for the foreseeable future—and we want the terms of that system to be favorable to American interests and values. It is rather, a favorable disposition in which the U.S. and its allies can shape the international rules of the road on the sorts of issues that are fundamentally going to matter to the people of our country [America] and to the people everywhere.”
American global hegemony is threatened by the potential integration of European (particularly German) industrial corporations and Russian energy suppliers. Washington is particularly eager to abort the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea to replace obsolescent Soviet-era pipelines across Ukraine. The Germans are, not surprisingly, not on board with the idea of forgoing Russian gas and paying twice as much for American liquified natural gas. The opening of Nord Stream 2 will deprive Ukraine of the capacity to cut off Russian gas shipments and end the estimated $2.5 billion a year paid to Kiev in transit fees.
A recent article in German Foreign Policy (4 February) observed:
“The power struggle that the West is waging against Russia is provoking a long-term hike in natural gas prices in Germany as well as a tendency toward unreliable supplies. This results from the German government’s plans to rely more on liquefied gas imports in the future. Liquefied gas is more expensive than pipeline gas, and is also more unreliable, in the current situation. Liquefied gas tankers can be diverted to another destination at any time, if higher prices can be obtained.
. . .
“The high costs of natural gas and its shortage are increasingly due to Berlin and the West’s struggle for hegemony, which, in their attempts to gain dominance over eastern and southeastern Europe, are attacking Russia with growing aggressiveness. This is why, for example, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has not gone into service, following years of delays due to sanctions, the process of approval is now being held up by Germany’s Federal Network Agency.”
Ostensibly Nord Stream 2 is being held up by German regulators, but geopolitical considerations were always the critical factor. During a March 2021 visit to Europe, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said:
“‘President (Joe) Biden has been very clear, he believes the pipeline is a bad idea, bad for Europe, bad for the United States, ultimately it is in contradiction to the EU’s own security goals’….
“‘It has the potential to undermine the interests of Ukraine, Poland and a number of close partners and allies,’ Blinken added, saying that a U.S. law required Washington to impose sanctions on companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project.”
Germany’s rulers are loath to antagonize their American partners but have been disinclined to capitulate on Nord Stream 2:
“A German government official denied U.S. claims that Berlin has signaled to Washington it would halt Nord Stream 2 if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. There’s no need for such a assurance at this point, the official said, under the condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential: as long as the fate of the pipeline lies with the regulators, [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz’s government has no mechanism to intervene.
“It’s not the first time the U.S. has tried to exert pressure on Germany over Nord Stream 2. But since the conflict between Washington and Berlin was resolved in July [2021 when the US agreed to let it proceed], there’s been a sense that the Biden administration may look for another way—such as the current Ukraine crisis—to kill the project once and for all, the official said.
“President Joe Biden’s facing bipartisan criticism for waiving sanctions on the pipeline’s parent earlier this year. Lawmakers continue to call on Biden to sanction the pipeline, especially given Russia’s troop buildup.”
The EU currently gets 40 percent of its gas from Russia. A 17 November 2021 article in German Foreign Policy discussed the potential for price-gouging by LNG suppliers and warned that the obstacles being placed in the way of opening Nord Stream 2 was pushing Moscow to look for alternative markets. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly, currently operates the “Power of Siberia” pipeline to China:
“A second (‘Power of Siberia 2’) is in planning. Experts are already speculating that the latter, unlike ‘Power of Siberia,’ could tap the same gas fields as the pipelines serving Europe. This gives Russia new leverage to ‘switch from one market to the other,’ according to a recent analysis of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).”
The US shrugs off the cost to the peoples of the EU of aborting Nord Stream 2 as merely “collateral damage” similar to that suffered as a result of NATO’s “humanitarian” interventions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The German bourgeoisie, which naturally has a different perspective, has been playing for time by delaying the opening of the pipeline pending final regulatory approval, supposedly postponed until July. The logic of economic cooperation between Moscow and Berlin, like the related question of German participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (also disapproved by the US) is clear, as is the importance for the US of aborting Nord Stream 2 if it is to retain hegemony over its European imperialist allies. But core sections of the German ruling class do not seek US protection from Russia—they are far more interested in expanding their market for selling automobiles, machinery and other industrial products while gaining access to Russian natural gas, oil and other raw materials.
Russia, China & Iran—Avatars of a multi-polar world order
America’s ignominious defeat at the hands of the lightly-armed Taliban and its chaotic exit from Afghanistan graphically illustrated the precipitous decline of what once advertised itself as the “world’s only superpower.” This impression is only reinforced by the venality, incoherence, and irrationality of American domestic politics. What Ronald Reagan once described as a ”shining city on a hill,” is today seen by most of the world’s population as something more like a flaming dumpster. The inability of the American ruling class to successfully manage its own decline has provided space for the evolution of a new axis of resistance, based on an unlikely alliance of corrupt, socially-backward Russian oligarchs; reactionary Iranian theocrats and the Stalinist leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
While US attempts to retain its predominance over its NATO/EU allies and vassals hinge on constraining Russia, the key target in America’s struggle for global supremacy is the Chinese deformed workers’ state. China’s meteoric economic rise is, in part, due to a strategic miscalculation by the rulers of the world’s “indispensable nation,” who presumed that the Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy would be corrupted, divided and ultimately sidelined by the growth of a dynamic private capitalist class which would overturn the collectivized property system established under Mao Zedong after the 1949 Revolution. Washington’s refusal to normalize relations with Russia after the capitalist counterrevolution destroyed the Soviet Union has gradually pushed the Kremlin into an ever-closer military and economic alliance with Beijing based on a common need to resist American aggression.
The political formula for the Beijing-Moscow alliance is a vision of a “multi-polar” world order—which implies the demotion of the “world’s only superpower” to one of several major players. The attempt by the US to seize control of the petroleum wealth of the Middle East by replacing Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator (and former US asset), with a servile puppet state dedicated to promoting the interests of American oil corporations ended in a strategic defeat of even larger dimensions than that suffered in Afghanistan. The reason for this was that the Iraqi people refused to bow down to the US invaders and their puppets. Their struggle was supported by the Iranian theocracy which came to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the US-supported Pahlavi monarchy. For years the US has imposed draconian “maximum pressure” economic sanctions on Iran in order to weaken the grip of the ruling mullahs and create conditions for their overthrow, but thus far the regime has not cracked.
Washington’s intransigent hostility to the Iranian mullahs has pushed Tehran into a de facto alliance with Moscow and Beijing, codified in major economic cooperation agreements signed with both China and Russia. The three countries recently negotiated a deal to develop the huge (7.1 trillion cubic meters) Chalous gas field in the Iranian portion of the Caspian Sea. The agreement, set to run for 20 years, gives 40 percent of the gas produced to Russian companies, (Transneft and Gazprom); 28 percent to China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China National Petroleum Corporation; 25 percent to KEPCO, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company and the other seven percent to companies controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard:
“The advantages for Iran would be bringing in Transneft for transportation, CNPP for financing, CNOOC for infrastructure and engineering, one source told Watkins. The deal would also give Iran some level of Russian political support internationally, including in future issues over Iran’s nuclear program and its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
“And the pot is large. With Transneft reporting to Moscow that latest research suggests Chalous could supply 52 percent—rather than 20 percent—of Europe’s needs over the 20 years of the agreement, the financial benefits to Iran would be significant. A 28 percent share of a gas field potentially worth $450 billion over 20 years would be $5.6 billion annually or a total of $112 billion.”
Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, in a January address to the Russian Duma, reminded his hosts that, “We have been resisting the Americans for 40 years.” He called for a “permanent and strategic” alliance between Iran and Russia, proclaiming, “The strategy of domination has now failed, the United States is in its weakest position, and the power of independent nations is experiencing historic growth” (thecradle.co). A few days later Chinese, Russian and Iranian naval vessels held a joint military exercise in the Gulf of Oman just outside the Persian Gulf. The message was unmistakeable: US supremacy in this strategic region faces a new challenge.
Iran, which played an important role in foiling American attempts to consolidate control of Iraq, has constructed a regional network, most importantly Hezbollah in Lebanon, that has emerged as a potent factor in Middle East politics:
“Tehran and Jerusalem may be a thousand miles apart, but Iran’s so-called axis of resistance—which, by some counts, totals more than a hundred Shiite militias, with widely diverse manpower and matériel—has become entrenched across the Middle East, right up to Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s network spans half a dozen countries and has so fundamentally altered the region’s strategic balance that no nation can take on Iran and its proxies without risking multiple military challenges, major loss of life, devastating damage to infrastructure, or instability rippling through other nations. That applies even to the United States, nuclear-armed Israel, or Saudi Arabia, which spent fifty-five billion dollars—or roughly five times—more on defense in 2017 than Iran did.
“Iran is unlikely to win a conflict. But it could insure that others don’t win, either, at least not in the classic sense of a decisive victory.”
“Iran could respond to any strike on its territory by unleashing its allies elsewhere in the Middle East, as it did in the nineteen-eighties, when it aided proxies that bombed two U.S. embassies and the barracks of U.S. Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon. The attacks ended up forcing the Reagan Administration to withdraw its peacekeepers.”
The timeframe for realizing the long-term objective of pushing US military forces out of the region has shortened with the Pentagon’s shambolic exit from Afghanistan last year. While the US retains a formidable ring of bases, toeholds in Iraq and Syria, as well as powerful local allies, its capacity to forcibly impose its will as well as its “soft power” appeal has been steadily eroding.
Conversely, Russian influence in the strategic Persian Gulf region has risen sharply as a result of its successful military intervention to prop up Syria’s embattled Baathist regime which had been facing defeat at the hands of a domestic jihadi uprising that was lavishly supported by the US and its regional allies. This has created headaches for Israel, Washington’s most important Middle Eastern partner. In recent weeks, for the first time, Russian and Syrian planes have recently begun joint air-patrols (timesofisrael.com).
In January, following Israeli attacks on the port of Latakia, Russia ignored Tel Aviv’s complaints of GPS signals being jammed over Syrian airspace:
“Russia has rejected a demand by Israel that it stop using defense systems in Syria that jam GPS systems in Israeli airspace and affect landings by commercial aircraft at Ben Gurion Airport in the capital Tel Aviv, Israeli media reported Monday.
“Israel sent a letter to Russia stating that the defense systems operated by Russia at Khmeimim Air Base in the Syrian port city of Latakia cause electromagnetic interference in the GPS systems of the planes landing in Tel Aviv, the official Israeli KAN channel reported.
“Rejecting Israel’s demand, Moscow emphasized that the systems were placed to protect its soldiers in the region.”
Russia has also been helping Iran upgrade its military hardware (atlanticcouncil.org) and there are recent reports that Iranian munition shipments have been permitted to pass through Russia’s Hemeimeem Air Base in western Syria. Previously Russia turned a blind eye to Iranian activity via a Syrian air force base which Russian planes used as well (csis.org), while also tolerating Israeli strikes on both Syrian and Iranian military assets (timesnownews.com). If Russia is indeed offering Iran the use of its air base (which Israel will not be permitted to attack with impunity) Hezbollah’s already formidable military capabilities, as well as those of the Iranian-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, will likely be significantly upgraded.
Down with NATO/US sanctions! Ukraine has no right to join NATO!
In contrast to the motley crew of pseudo-socialists huddling under the “Neither Moscow nor Washington” banner, who characterize Russia and/or China as “imperialist” powers qualitatively similar to the US, UK, Germany, France, etc., Trotskyists consider Russia to be a dependent capitalist country qualitatively similar to Brazil or Iran. We defend Russia against US/NATO economic sanctions and military aggression, for the same reasons we defend Syria, Iran, Venezuela and other neo-colonial capitalist regimes targeted by the declining American hegemon. We recognize the right of the people of Crimea to rejoin Russia, just as we recognized the right of the Chechens to separate from Russia. We categorically reject the idea that the rulers of Ukraine or Georgia have a right to join the NATO imperialist military alliance targeting Russia. The left wing of the “Neither Moscow nor Washington” crew tend to want to avoid taking a position on this issue—because recognizing such a “right,” means aligning with the US State Department’s position. Conversely, rejecting Ukraine’s “right” to enlist as a pawn in the imperialist struggle to defeat and dismember Russia, means favouring the military victory of Putin’s forces and defying the furious imperialist propaganda barrage currently underway.
In 2014 we opposed the clearly expressed intention of the NATO imperialists (echoed by various leftists) for Russian forces to be expelled from their Black Sea Sevastopol naval base. Russia (like China and Iran) has a right to defend its military installations and national territory against incursions by US or other imperialist forces. We recognize Russia’s right to neutralize NATO missile sites established in neighboring East European countries, without necessarily advocating that such actions be carried out.
Within living memory massive military conflicts have raged across the territories of Iran, China and Russia, resulting in many millions of casualties. The US in recent decades has laid waste to a series of nearly defenseless neo-colonies (Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya), destroying vital infrastructure and creating massive social dislocation. All of these “wars,” while spectacularly unsuccessful, took place at a safe distance from the US “homeland.” The western corporate media’s mountain of lies bemoaning the supposed “genocide” of China’s Uighurs, like the sympathetic neutrality with which the attempts of neo-Nazi units of the Ukrainian army to forcibly subdue Donetsk and Luhansk have been depicted, have failed to dent the overwhelming popular opposition in America and its imperialist allies to any further “humanitarian” foreign military adventures.
Revolutionaries support the struggles of indigenous forces, however reactionary, aimed at driving out imperialist occupiers (like the remaining US forces in Iraq and Syria). We welcome any assistance that Russia, Iran or China may provide that helps accomplish that objective while not offering any political support to Putin’s reactionary pseudo-democratic regime in Moscow, nor to the Iranian theocracy. While we defend the Chinese deformed workers’ state against both foreign imperialist pressure and indigenous forces of counterrevolution, we advocate workers’ political revolution to oust the bureaucratic Chinese Communist Party as the only means to open the road to genuine socialism.
Chinese Stalinists & Russian oligarchs: a marriage of convenience
Vladimir Putin drew a line beyond which he said Russia refused to be pushed. He clearly indicated that the continued attempts by Ukraine and Georgia to assert their supposed right to join NATO, an explicitly anti-Russian military alliance, was one which could trigger a “military-technical” response, which it now has. The Kremlin’s calculation was that if Ukraine would not voluntarily agree to remove NATO facilities and renounce its intention to join the alliance, it must be made to agree. The macro economic situation was relatively favorable, and France, Germany and other major players in the EU have made it clear that, like the US, they do not intend to get directly involved militarily. Zelensky clearly would have preferred to avoid a military conflict which everyone knew Ukraine would lose, but his government was constrained by both foreign and domestic pressures from taking the obvious step of declaring that it would neither join NATO nor permit US or other NATO facilities to operate on its territory.
The Kremlin intervention is clearly not intended to result in the occupation of Ukraine, a prize Russia cannot afford to win, as Brookings Institute study outlined in 2014:
“Economically, Russia can afford losing Ukraine. What Russia could not afford is to win Ukraine, that is, to be saddled with not only its current costs of up to $10 billion a year for eastern Ukraine but the much larger amounts that would be needed to support the rest of the country if they were cut off from its western markets.”
It seems probable that Moscow will opt to annex the entire Donbass (which is roughly three times the size of the two “people’s republics”) in Ukraine’s Russophile east as well as sufficient territory to establish a land bridge to Crimea and secure its access to fresh water (which Ukraine cut off when Crimea joined Russia). Any such scenario is likely to create some number of refugees moving in both directions.
Moscow would prefer to avoid any serious military conflict with NATO, which would vastly increase its dependence on Beijing, and which could come with substantial costs in the long run, as China’s population and economy are both roughly ten times the size of Russia’s. In recent years there has been a somewhat muted Sino-Russian competition in Central Asia, a region where China’s influence is growing (carnegiemoscow.org). Despite occasional references to “proletarian internationalism” the CCP bureaucracy, adhering to the doctrine of “socialism in one country,” always puts China’s national interests above all else. The CCP has shown patience and a willingness to play a long game, but the current alliance between the Chinese deformed workers’ state and Russia’s capitalist rulers is essentially one of convenience based on the existence of a common enemy.
Vladimir Putin, who has recently won the right to remain president of the Russian Federation until 2036, has been acting in an increasingly bonapartist fashion, while retaining the trappings of electoral democracy. His pseudo-democratic regime operates along the same lines as that of Polish strongman Józef Pilsudski in the 1920s and 30s. Putin enjoys a high level of popular support, particularly in comparison with his Western counterparts, and is widely credited with having skillfully restored Russia’s global status as a great power. Putin’s supporters tend to attribute many of Russia’s domestic problems to foreign malevolence and view his pro-Western liberal critics as fifth columnists. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo and resentment of state officials and the oligarchs they serve, but thus far Putin has been a beneficiary of the traditional notion of “good tsar, bad boyars”—i.e., the president means well but his officials and advisers do not act according to his wishes.
Putin’s domestic agenda puts the emphasis on social stability. His government has allied itself with the Russian Orthodox Church by promoting “traditional values” and Great Russian chauvinism while banning “gay propaganda” aimed at youth. The 2020 constitutional amendments, which effectively made Putin president for life, also included clauses honoring the “ancestors who bequeathed to us their ideals and belief in God,” defined marriage as exclusively the “union of a man and a woman,” and outlawed “belittling the people’s heroic protection of the Fatherland” (brill.com).
While Putin has sought to maintain living standards in the face of severe imperialist sanctions, his top priority has been the defense of the power and prerogatives of the corrupt oligarchs who control much, but not all, of the economy. Four of Russia’s five largest companies are state-owned: Gazprom (natural gas), Rosneft (oil), Sberbank (finance) and Russian Railways. Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest corporation, although privately owned works closely with the Kremlin as do practically all other major enterprises.
Global capitalism means global conflict—Either socialism or the end of civilization
Russia’s capitalist oligarchs, like Putin, their political frontman, are at best indifferent to the concerns of working people—whether in Russia, Ukraine or other countries of the “near abroad.” Putin and his coterie deserve no political support whatsoever from revolutionary socialists—the only historically progressive road forward for the Russian people is through workers’ revolution to overthrow his regime. The same applies to the rulers of Iran, Syria and other capitalist neo-colonies, yet the implacable hostility with which Marxists regard these regimes does not negate the urgency of defending them from imperialist provocations and aggression.
US policy makers are not concerned about the democratic or national rights of Ukraine; their focus is on using it as a wedge between the EU and Russia. The US colossus, which in 1950 accounted for half the world’s total industrial output, is not what it once was. There is no compelling rationale for Europe’s capitalist rulers to willingly continue subordinating their interests to those of the declining hegemon.
Russia’s current “military-technical” intervention in Ukraine is intended to be of limited duration and aimed at achieving a few well-defined objectives. But it is impossible to be sure that military activity will not spill over the boundaries of Ukraine. A broader conflict pitting Russian forces and those of NATO could prove very difficult to contain. If the conflict were to spread across Europe and the Middle East it could result in a massively destructive global conflict which, in a worst-case scenario, could produce a nuclear conflagration which would almost certainly end civilization as we know it.
At present most of the organisations of the international left are so politically degenerated, and those capable of at least approximating a revolutionary response are so dispersed, that working-class opposition to imperialist war does not factor into the calculations of the imperialist rulers. The mass Stalinist parties that existed from the 1920s to the 1980s have shrivelled, the trade unions in almost every major capitalist country have lost members and influence due to the overt class-collaborationist policies of their leaders who are, for the most part, timid sub-reformist careerists incapable of even pretending to offer any serious opposition to their capitalist masters.
This current dangerous international conjuncture reflects the fundamentally irrational character of global capitalism, a social system “red in tooth and claw” compelled by the imperatives of capital accumulation to engage in dangerous and irrational predatory activity. In the midst of World War I, Rosa Luxemburg, the great Polish revolutionary, observed:
“Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping in filth, this capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics—as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity—so it appears in all its hideous nakedness.”
—The Junius Pamphlet
Luxemburg, recognizing that the triumph of imperialism would ultimately lead to the annihilation of human civilization, asserted that the only historically progressive solution was through “the victory of socialism, that is, the conscious struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism, against its methods, against war.”
The crucial task Marxists face today is to rebuild a genuinely revolutionary movement on an international basis that is rooted in the struggles of the proletariat. Such a movement can only be created on the basis of a genuinely revolutionary, internationalist program, deriving from the historical experience of the victorious Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent struggle of its Trotskyist heirs against Stalinist corruption. As a first approximation, revolutionaries must be able to distinguish between the rapacious US/NATO predators and their intended victims and willing to militarily defend the latter against the former, without offering any political support to their anti-proletarian bourgeois leaders.
Contemporary revolutionaries face a situation that is more difficult than that faced by Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky and other Marxist internationalists during the dark days of the world’s first inter-imperialist bloodbath. We have the advantage of being able to learn from their experiences and assimilate the lessons they taught, but the forces of the organized workers’ movement across the imperialist heartlands are at a low ebb.
Yet we take hope from the knowledge that the conditions of life under capitalism inevitably awaken new layers of working people to the realities of class society and the necessity of class struggle. Just as the insatiable capitalist rulers must always seek new fields for plunder, so too the masses of exploited humanity are constantly propelled into resisting their oppressors. The road to restoring Marxism as a mass current within the international proletariat lies though a combination of participation in the living class struggle, while elaborating and defending a program based on the politics of Lenin, Trotsky and the early Communist International. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1915, “we are not lost, and we will be victorious if we have not unlearned how to learn.”
* ⇑ In a 3 March discussion featuring John Mearsheimer and Ray McGovern posted on YouTube, Theodore (Ted) Postol pointed out a “technical problem which is of major importance” that helps explain Russian concern about NATO’s presence on its borders. Postol is a recognized expert in the field of ballistic missile technology:
“Theodore A. Postol (born 1946) is a professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to his work at MIT, he worked at Argonne National Laboratory, the Pentagon, and Stanford University.
“He also criticized the US government’s analysis of the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack in Syria, analysis by the US and other western governments of the April 4, 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, and accused the OPCW of “deception” concerning the Douma chemical attack. Earlier, he criticised US government statements about the reported success rates of Patriot missiles during the first Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm”
The following is a transcript of Postol’s remarks (emphasis added):
“…the Russian early warning system is nothing like the American early warning system. In the United States we know when a ballistic missile has been launched from any point in the world at any given time. The Russians cannot do this and because of that, more than 20 years ago now, there was a false alert that occurred at a time of extreme peacefulness between both countries, and we know that the Russian military officers involved made decisions also based on their judgement that there was nothing going on between our countries. If that same accident had occurred in the last few days a different outcome might have occurred. I think the Russians are very careful about nuclear weapons, in fact, in my judgement they are much more so than we are, we Americans. Nevertheless, the fact that the Russian early warning system does not give them comprehensive understanding of what is going on throughout the world when missiles are launched is extremely dangerous when you have a period like this.
“Now, to the benefit, one of the few things I just want to make one more comment on is that just a few hours ago there was a little news item saying that the United States has decided not to have a ballistic missile test that was scheduled sometime in the next few days or hours. I think that is an extremely good decision, because the Russians only have a very piecemeal idea of what is happening with nuclear forces around the world. And anything that happens in one place cannot be confirmed by observations of other places, and because they don’t have what I would call global situational awareness, that could put their forces onto a higher level of alert, and possibly even lead to actions associated with pre-delegated authority which we know for sure the Russians have to be doing because their warning system does not give them adequate time for the kinds of consultations that we plan to have if we ever have to make a decision about our nuclear forces.
“So this is kind of a technical observation. It’s peripheral to the main political issues which I basically agree with here. But I think it’s a real problem. I have been talking about it for well over 20 years. I get laughed at when I talk to people from the Pentagon about trying to do something constructive that would be between both countries. I point out to them that if the Russians attack us because they think they are under attack when they are not, it’s not in the interests of the United States to let that remain as a condition. But there is no interest at all in cooperation on this matter. In some ways, although it is politically extremely different from what we are now talking about, it is another example of how there is a kind of underlying unacceptance of Russians having a legitimate set of concerns for their own security. And on that matter I strongly agree with Ray [McGovern] and of course I strongly agree with John Mearsheimer as well.”